Self publishing for Canadians can be profitable, but there are a lot of little differences that you might not learn until you go through the process. American authors don’t have to deal with some of the decisions we do. I’ve put together a brief overview of some of the major self publishing platforms and the pros and cons.
But first, a few pieces of info about things you’ll need to know regardless of the platform you choose.
For years the Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) was required to sell in the US. It went on US tax forms to allow you to file taxes, claim treaty benefits etc. It was a tedious process that, for me, meant hoofing it over the border to an IRS office.
In 2014, the rules were changed to allow Canadian SINs to be entered in place of ITINs.
Print on demand companies now either accept the Canadian SIN on the required forms, or they do an online tax interview. If you still need to do a paper form, it’s called a W8-BEN.
When you self publish, the printers like Amazon, Draft2Digital, Lulu, Smashwords etc automatically withhold 30% of your royalty earnings for US taxes. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that has a tax treaty with the US, your amount of withholding could be less. Canada is extremely lucky – our tax treaty withholding is 0% (thanks to Article 12 of the US/Canada Tax Treaty).
This does not automatically reduce your withholding – you need to tell the platform not to take your money. To do this, you either complete their online tax interview (Amazon and Draft2Digital do this), or you have to fill out an IRS tax form called a W8-BEN and send it to them (either electronically or by snail mail). Once this is on file, they will not tax your royalties in the US – you do, however, have to claim them on your Canadian income tax.
The International Standard Book Number is the 13 digit number by the bar code on each book that currently starts with 978. This is how people find your book and is mapped directly to that format of your book. If you are selling print you need this number. You can also use an ISBN for ebooks (although Amazon lets you use their own ASIN as well). Some print-on-demand platforms offer free ISBNs (Lulu, D2D), and their ISBNs list them as the publisher of record. If you get your own ISBN, you are the publisher of record, which looks a bit more professional.
Unlike our neighbours to the south, who have to pay for ISBNs, Canadians get them for free.
Yep, free. All you have to do is register with ISBN Canada. You can get as many as you like.
You’ll need a different ISBN for each format of the same book. So a different one for a trade paperback, a mass market paperback, hardcover, an ebook etc. But that’s fine, since they’re free!
Score one for the maple leaf.
Be aware – if you publish under a pseudonym and don’t want anyone to know who you are, you will be identifiable via your Canadian ISBNs, as you are required to list a real name and address as publisher when applying for your ISBNs. The ISBN database is searchable, so any books you give a Canadian ISBN to will be searchable to your registered name and address.
If you want to be truly anonymous, you could incorporate as a business to use a business name as the publisher, use a free ISBN from print companies that offer one, or use an Amazon assigned ASIN only for digital work.
WHERE TO PUBLISH
Some publishing platforms are what they call aggregators, who publish to multiple outlets. For example, Lulu publishes print to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more, while they also publish digitally to Amazon, Nook, Kobo and many more. You can also choose to publish directly to an individual platform, although you’ll have to manage your work across many more sites. There are pros and cons to each – aggregators usually give you a little less in royalty, but make up for it with having only one place to manage your work.
Here is a rundown of some of the more common publishing platforms.
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – No
Ebook – No (see KDP)
Createspace is Amazon’s print book publishing platform. It’s just as easy to use as Lulu (from what I’ve heard).
The main reason I decided not to go with them is their payment structure. They do NOT pay Canadians out via electronic funds transfer or PayPal. For a new-to-self-publishing person, this can be a big deterrent. You have no idea how long it could take you to sell enough print books, especially since ebooks are so much more popular for indie authors. You could be waiting forever for a cheque.
Aside from that, Createspace is very similar to Lulu. They accept our SIN instead of ITIN in their tax interview.
- They provide you with their own store to sell from (like Lulu) where you make more in royalties. (Note: As of October 2017, they are shutting down the eStore – I suspect this is in preparation for folding Createspace into KDP Print)
- You get extended distribution beyond Amazon for print.
- Bulk orders and author copies are available, so you can purchase a copy for the print cost. This saves you money if you need to order in bulk, but I do not believe they have a Canadian printer, so there is duty/exchange to worry about.
- They don’t pay Canadians electronically. I don’t even understand this, since KDP does pay Canadian electronically. You can use 3rd party apps like Payoneer, but you’ll lose royalties. You can get paid electronically if you have a US based bank account.
- Canadians are restricted to receiving physical cheques. They don’t issue cheques unless you have $100 of royalties (per currency) in your account. If you make 120 bucks US but only 30 Canadian, you only get paid the US.
- It seems likely they’ll be phasing Createspace out in favour of KDP Print in the future. No official word on this, but they currently have two print platforms, and KDP is the newest, so it looks like that’s where they’re moving in the future.
Paperback – No, but they can generate a file for you
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes (Amazon, Apple, Nook, Overdrive, Kobo and many more.)
Draft2Digital is a platform I’ve been hearing more and more about lately, and after my issues with Lulu, I decided to test them out. In ten minutes I had a book published. Their site is really easy to navigate, their payment structure is clear (10% cut in addition to the cut the platform takes … so Apple takes their cut and then D2D takes their cut – pretty standard) and their upload was really fast. They also have automated services to add bios, publishing info and other stuff to the back of your book.
I uploaded a formatted epub, but you can also submit Word files (and submitting a Word file means they can create a paperback file for you as well). They can supply ISBNs or you can bring your own. Currently they get you on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, Inktera, Overdrive, Playster, Scribd, Tolino and 24Symbols. The nice thing is that you can opt out of any of them at any time and they are looking to add more in the future.
- They pay out via lots of different methods, from cheque to PayPal to Payoneer to direct deposit and more. I was able to set the threshold for payment which was great. They pay out once a month as well.
- Gets you on every major platform but Amazon and Google Play.
- VERY easy to use.
- Has an online tax interview, which took no time at all, and my withholding is now 0%.
- Publishing a book is very easy and took hardly any time at all. Lots of keywords and categories available to add to your book.
- Lots of great auto services like new release announcements, adding books to a series, publisher profiles, author bios etc, that are automatically added to your book if you want.
- You can set up pre-orders.
- THEY ARE SO FAST. With Lulu I had to wait a week or more to see my book in the Apple iBookstore. My D2D book was there in less than 8 hours.
- You can set prices for different locations, so you can customize the price for Canada, Australia and other countries and not just price match to the US price.
- When there’s an issue with your book during the process, it actually tells you exactly what the problem is. This makes fixing it much easier. When I was with Lulu I’d get a generic “fix your ncx” or something, but no idea of WHAT to fix. D2D is much clearer on what the issues are.
- Super fast replies from their help people.
- Royalties are lower for Amazon/Kobo etc than going direct (to be expected with any aggregator).
- The royalty is a little less than at Lulu – by a little, I mean 17 cents. I’m willing to part with 17 cents for the speed and lack of issues I had uploading.
- If you want to use AMS ads or KDP Select, you can’t do that through their Amazon feature.
- Amazon books can’t be priced free; they still have to be price matched at Amazon.
- No revenue splitting, but they are trying to add it as a feature soon.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kindle is the most popular ereader (especially in the USA – 75% of all readers), and you can publish to it via this program. Readers can also download Kindle for their PCs or apps for their phone.
You may also enroll your ebooks in KDP Select, a program which allows your book to be part of Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where readers can borrow the books to read. A share of the KDP Select Global Fund is earned based on how many pages of your book are read by readers who borrow it. Marketing perks allow you 5 days of offering your book free or 7 days of offering it on discount per Kindle Select period (which is 3 months – you can opt in and out of the program).
Despite being Canadian, most of my book audience is American. After I sold on all ebook platforms for awhile, I elected to do Kindle Select for my Brookline University books. I had very little success with it – it seems unless you got in awhile ago or you’re in a genre that is popular with KU, it’s hard to get traction. The payouts have been shrinking as well. You may want to test the waters on all platforms first to see where the majority of sales come from before deciding on Kindle Select.
In 2016, KDP unveiled print books. You don’t get to buy books at cost like at Lulu or Createspace, there is no extended distribution beyond Amazon (and they don’t get your book on Amazon.ca which is insanely stupid), but you make a decent profit (about 60%) here, which is better than if Lulu distributes to Amazon. Overall, I think this may be where I do all my Amazon print now, since they do pay out electronically to Canadians the same way they do with KDP. Since this program is in beta, I suspect that author copies and extended distribution will be coming in the future. Americans may be better off going with Createspace at the moment, but KDP Print is a great option for Canadians.
- The most popular platform out there. In 2015, Kindle had 75% of the US market (followed by Apple at 12% and Nook at 9%) and around 95% of the UK market. (Canadian market isn’t that great – we’re a Kobo nation lol.).
- Kindle Select allows you to promote with freebies and discount deals if you are exclusive to Kindle and your book is available nowhere else. But without Select, you have to do discounts manually and it doesn’t show as a sale or discount, just the price.
- Readers without a Kindle can still get the program/app for the smartphone, tablet and computer to read your books. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware of this.
- You can set a pre-order for your ebooks. Note that people can’t review a pre-order so many authors release the print version first and put the ebook on pre-order, allowing reviewers to leave reviews before the release date.
- You can opt in and out of Kindle Select, which is helpful if you want to first test the waters on all platforms, then find the one working best for you.
- Pay out via electronic funds transfer directly to your bank account (EFT, so there are no transfer fees). They pay out any amount, so if you earn it, you’ll receive that payment.
- Their tax interview takes the place of mailing in any paperwork for tax treaty benefits, and you can use your Canadian SIN.
- You make good profit on print books sold here – way more than Lulu, so I switched all of my print books (except any hardcover) to be sold to Amazon through KDP Print. (I still use Lulu for author copies)
- Print allows you to choose between glossy and matte covers and between white and cream interior paper. I’ve heard the cream paper is a bit darker than the norm. Once you choose, you can’t change it.
- Their sales reports recently got a makeover and they’re much easier to read.
- To access the deals and KU/KOLL, you have to be exclusive to Kindle. This could be a deal breaker if you sell well on another platform or want your book available to Kobo readers in Canada.
- There is no way to split payments between co-authors. Kindle desperately needs to add revenue splitting.
- Payments are made about 2-3 months after sales have occurred. This is normal, but not as quick as some other platforms.
- Could prevent Canadians (who are primarily Kobo users) from thinking they can get your book. A lot of people are not aware of the Kindle app, or they don’t want to use it since it’s not available on other readers, only tablets and computers.
- No at-cost purchasing of print books available yet. No extended print distribution beyond Amazon either at this point. As Print is new, lots of glitches in their publisher initially. Sadly, this includes Amazon.ca – your print book will NOT be available there (Lulu will get it on .ca but you’ll barely make any royalties).
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kobo is not as well known in the US, but thanks to its partnership with Indigo bookstores, had about 46% of the Canadian ereader market in 2012 (Amazon was 24% and Sony 18%). I suspect it’s way higher than that now since Sony quit the ereader game in 2014. Kobo also has a market outside of North America (20% of the market), but in the US hold around 4% of that market.
They allow downloads from the Kobo store, but you can also sideload epubs and pdfs downloaded elsewhere on the devices which means people can download books from other sources and load them on the Kobo (like borrowing from libraries), so they aren’t restricted to the Kobo store.
You can publish to Kobo via Lulu or Smashwords, but the earnings were much higher using the Kobo Writer’s Life platform, which is easy to use and has a few features not found on other platforms.
- The Kobo Writer’s Life platform is easy to use. I find it the second easiest of all of the publishing platforms.
- Higher payouts than using Lulu or Smashwords to get on Kobo.
- Kobo dominates Canada. We are the only English speaking country not dominated by Amazon.
- They allow you to sell your book for free if you want. This is only possible on some platforms, and is great if you offer a series and want to give away the first book to encourage sales for the others.
- They allow you to set sale prices as well so your readers can see the regular price and sale price.
- You can do pre-sales for your ebooks.
- They have a promotions program – some don’t cost upfront (they take a percentage of any sales you get) while others cost (usually under 25 bucks). They will place your book up in their deals section. You have to be proactive with marketing when you get a promo, but I did quite well with a featured deal, so I think their promos are great.
- They’ve recently added a KDP Select-like program in certain countries that you can opt-in to – and you DO NOT have to be exclusive to Kobo to participate, which is great. Hopefully they’ll expand it to other markets soon.
- Updates to the site are very fast.
- Their customer service has been fast and really great – and funny. I’ve laughed so hard at some of the emails. I just love these guys.
- You can set which territories to sell in and you can set prices for most of the big ones (allowing you to price match to the US price or give some countries a deal on your book).
- Distributes ebooks to Chapters/Indigo (Canada), Angus and Robertson (Australia), Whitcoulls (New Zealand), FNAC (France), WH Smith (United Kingdom) and many others in many countries (26 million users in 190 countries).
- If your material is interesting to a US audience, you may not have a lot of sales to US readers here.
- Their sales reports need work. Too many clicks to get where you want, and it’s complicated to see all of your info. They also don’t seem to have a way to export your sales info to Excel or other applications.
- Payouts are at a minimum of $50 paid via EFT (thank you commenter for the updated info!). The upside to this is that they WILL pay out after six months regardless of how much you make.
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – Yes
Ebook – Yes (Kobo, Nook, Apple, Amazon Kindle, any retailer in the Ingram distribution network)
Lulu offers print books as well as ebooks.
I’ve sampled their mass market paperback size (not eligible for extended distribution), their trade paperback (eligible) and hardcover (not eligible), and all are extremely well done. I actually prefer them to Amazon.
Lulu has printers in various countries, including Canada, so your shipping costs are pretty good, even for bulk orders (see the comments section where I did a little research on this). A lot of Aussies tend to buy print books from my Lulu store, as I’ve been told Amazon shipping costs can be really high for them, but Lulu has an Aussie printer, so it brings the cost down a lot.
Their ebook service is okay – they can get you on Amazon which is one of their benefits. In their distribution management area, you can choose which places to sell on, including Nook, Apple, Amazon and the only downside – “Kobo and everything else”. You can’t do Kobo separately from “everything else” so if you want to publish to Kobo via Kobo Writer’s Life (see below) you can’t use Lulu to get on anything else in the Ingram network.
- Payout is $5 via PayPal. This means that if you earn 5 bucks or more before the payout period (which is monthly), you get that money.
- Lots of choice for print books. Various trim sizes, binding types and page types to choose from. Only some are eligible for distribution, though.
- They often have special codes to use at checkout to get discounted print books, and it doesn’t cut into your royalty. This is great for promotions you can pass on to readers or to buy a bunch of your own books to sell at readings/conventions etc.
- You can create your own promos (that do hit you in the royalty).
- Lulu has a Canadian printer based in Toronto, so you can do bulk orders with no duty/exchange. The store is also offered in CAD.
- You can split royalties between two authors. This is great if you co-write as you can set the percentage each person receives. It’s one of the only platforms that work well for paying co-authors.
- The royalties for ebooks are pretty good. Not as good as being directly on the other platform, but fairly close.
- You get on pretty much every platform – Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, B&N, Kobo etc. This is one of the only non-Kindle sites that publishes to Kindle so you can manage all of your books and formats in one place.
- Changing cover/price/content etc is easy. Beware that if you change content in a distributed print book (eg. distributed outside of Lulu to Amazon et al), you have to buy a proof copy for yourself each time you push an update or correction, however minor.
- I really like their converter. It converts well formatted Word files into PDF really well, and their entire creation process for print books (and ebook) is very easy. They have a cover creator as well.
- You get your own store website page to sell from and royalties are much higher here for print than through Amazon. But just try and get people to shop here … people like their Amazon!
- Free ISBNs if you don’t want to get your own. This is great for anonymity.
- I like their sales reports better than all of the other platforms. It exports to Excel and is very easy to read.
- Mark up for certain trim sizes is ridiculous if you distribute print books to Amazon. The most cost effective is the trade paperback size (6″x9″) where manufacturing costs are cheap enough that you can sell for $10-15 and still make a few bucks profit on Lulu. Or a few cents if it sells on Amazon (not kidding).
- Print books sold outside of Lulu net you very little in the way of royalties. My print book published from Lulu to Amazon usually got me anywhere from 56 cents to a just under a dollar. The book sold for $14.95. On Lulu, it nets me over 5 dollars. This is because the retail markup cuts into your royalty. There is a good chart here. I now recommend KDP Print for Canadians getting print on Amazon.com.
- With Lulu, their extended print distribution outside of Lulu is all or nothing. You either distribute just to Lulu or to everywhere. You can’t choose only Barnes and Noble or only Amazon etc. You can’t choose particular Amazon stores either (so you can’t do KDP Print for the .com store and Lulu to get on the .ca). If you tried to do paperback both on Lulu distributing to Amazon and KDP Print, you’d have double books listed in the store and would get very low royalties on the Lulu ones)
- There’s no way to set a release date for an ebook or print book (although you can control the release date for the book selling on the Lulu site). It makes it hard to do a big release when there’s no guarantee it’ll be for sale when you say. You aren’t notified when it shows up on the other platforms either, so you have to watch for it yourself. This is true for pretty much every print outlet, but they are behind in their ebook distribution.
- You can’t set prices based on location. You choose your base currency and others are converted from that. Other publishers, like KDP and Draft2Digital, allow you to set the cost in the currency of individual countries. This is nice if you like to make the Canadian dollar and US dollar price the same, so not being able to do that here is annoying.
- Removing your ebook from the distribution channels takes time. If you want to go into KDP Select, it can take upwards of a month or more to get off of Apple via Lulu.
- The cover image size for ebooks is really weird and makes the book covers look fat and squatty. Other platforms have better sized covers that look more realistic – Lulu seems stuck with an old picture size format for old ereaders.
- They are VERY strict about epubs. I can run mine through the International Digital Publishing Forum epub validator and get no errors and they will still say something is wrong. And it’s very vague (ie “there’s a problem with your NCX”), so you’ll spend hours trying to correct it. Their help videos aren’t helpful, their knowledge base is awful, and I’ve spent over a week resubmitting – and you only get it sent back to you after they’ve reviewed it, which can take a few days. If you can’t get it corrected and keep submitting in hopes you actually found the issue, they’ll threaten to close your account. They never used to be like this, and I’ve recently decided to switch to Draft2Digital because of it. And I’ve been with Lulu since 2006.
- Overall, I think their ebook publishing needs a big overhaul to compete with other platforms. They have a huge benefit with revenue splitting and they really need to leverage it. They desperately need to modernize.
- Their print is really great quality, but the low distribution royalties are an issue, but one they won’t be able to fix unfortunately.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes (Apple, Nook, Kobo, Scribd, no Amazon)
Smashwords is an ebook only publisher. Smashwords allows the Canadian SIN on their forms, but the W8-BEN needs to be snail mailed in. They have recently updated their payment times to monthly, regardless of how much you’ve sold, which is really nice.
You can also sell your ebooks via their site. They do not publish to Kindle, however, they do have options to publish mobi files on their site so Kindle users could buy your book from the Smashwords site if they wanted.
A nice feature of Smashwords is the site allows readers to download up to 20% of the book in various file formats to see if they like it. It’s a great way to try some indie authors. They also offer book files as epub, mobi, pdf, html, txt, lrf, rtf and more. You can also gift electronic works to others via the Smashwords site. The site also has an app.
- Popular platform with lots of publishing options.
- Publishes to other popular platforms (not Amazon, but mobi is available)
- Pays out monthly with no minimums, so if you make a few cents, you’ll get it. They pay out via PayPal as well, so it’s handy for Canadians.
- They have a smartphone app, so people can read on their phones.
- Also gets your ebook available to libraries via Overdrive.
- You still have to get on Amazon if you want to have access to the largest marketplace, so that means managing ebooks in two locations.
- No print books, so you will have to deal with more than one publishing platform if you want print books too.
- Their publishing guidelines and requirements are a bit stricter than others, but honestly, this just helps you get your ebook in the best format possible (Apple has the most stringent guidelines, so if a site publishes to them, they’ll be more stringent with the files you submit).
iBookAuthor (Apple iBookstore)
You can sell on the Apple iBookstore by using the iBookAuthor site to prepare your book. You can only submit your file with a Mac computer, because the program you need to do it is Mac only. If you’re on Windows, you’re out of luck and have to use an aggregator.
Barnes and Noble’s Nook reader is the second most popular in the US. You can publish to it via their site Nook Press, or through an aggregator. I have no experience with the Nook Press platform.
They aren’t accepting new sign ups, so you can’t directly get your books on Google Play. Why they don’t adopt a “get a code from an existing member” method to control scammers signing up is beyond me. In order to get on Google Play and allow Android users to get your book, you’ll need to go through an aggregator – Streetlib is the only one I currently know of.
This is a pay service that will get you on most of the sell channels. There is a set up fee for the format (print or digital or both), as well as printing and shipping costs. The upside is bookstore have the ability to stock your book, as returns are accepted. However, this benefit does cost you, unlike the other platforms, which have no fees. Occasionally they have deals to waive the set up fee for new sign ups, so keep your eyes open for deals if this platform interests you.
Owned by Ingram, they offer print on demand to full publishing. There are set up fees, change fees and a high cost for author copies. Like IngramSpark, you can accept returns which would allow a bookstore to order your book. Whether they would or not is the question.
Shutting down as of November 2017.
Brick and Mortar Stores
If you are looking to get your print book into brick-and-mortar stores, Createspace, KDP Print and Lulu will not do that. Books are not listed at a 40% discount for stores. They don’t offer returns either, and for this reason no bookstore would order it.
An option might be to talk in person with local bookstores to see if you can work something out with them.
If you are interested in getting into bookstores, look into IngramSpark and Lightning Source, but be prepared for it to cost you. There is no guarantee a bookstore will order your book, but they would have the ability to.
Avoid anything connected to Author Solutions. They are the parent company of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Tafford Publishing, Xlibris, Palibrio, and Booktango. They also have partnerships with: Archway Publishing,WestBow Press, Balboa Press, Inspiring Voices, Abbott Press and Lulu’s Pro Publishing Solutions. Author Solutions and its products are not print-on-demand services like Lulu, Createspace etc, but vanity presses which cost you money by selling expensive publishing packages. The lawsuit against them is summarized here.
You can do the work of publishing your book yourself or hire someone to do it for half the cost these services offer. Visit writing message boards to ask for recommendations for editors, formatting experts, marketers etc.
Overall, self publishing for Canadians is fairly easy and affordable. If you wanted to, you could publish a book without putting out a single cent. (Granted, the quality might be questionable depending on how talented you are!)
Costs you may incur would be your choice. You could hire people to handle everything from cover design, to ebook formatting, to your author website design. What you spend is up to you.
If you have any pertinent info to share about self-publishing for Canadians, feel free to comment!
There’s lots of great chat about indie publishing at KBoards.